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> Right now this screw is worth exactly the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is actually valueless until you get the screw out.

If I read the situation correctly, the motorcycle with this screw is certainly not valueless. It can be turned into a working motorcycle far more easily than most other things can be turned into a working motorcycle. If it would take a competent technician an hour to remove the screw, then the screw shouldn't affect the selling price of the motorcycle by more than a couple of hundred dollars.

It's important to remember that small, trivial-seeming things can actually be important, which I think is what he's pointing at. But it's also important to remember that a thing's potential has value beyond its current abilities.

If you're stuck at the side of a road, miles from anywhere, without a cellphone, a broken motorcycle has a value that's very close to zero. It might have a great deal of value in a workshop or a breaker's yard, but at that precise point in spacetime it's just a funny-shaped rock.

I bet his mind was blown the first time he got a flat. "Right now this tire is worth more than the selling price of the whole motorcycle." Or ran out of fuel. "Right now that Citgo sign is worth more than the selling price of the whole motorcycle." It sounds profound, except it's not.

I would submit that, contained within the discussion of the screw is a description of the Buddhist concept of Pratītyasamutpāda [1], or in English: dependent origination.

That is to say, without the screw, there is no motorcycle; without the motorcycle, there is no screw. In this concept, things cannot exist without being connected, dependent, and intertwined with one another. There is nothing that exists independently.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prat%C4%ABtyasamutp%C4%81da

Or possibly you missed the point? This doesn't seem to give him the benefit of any doubt.

I won't defend the book vigorously, but your reading of this part seems both superficial and easily dismissed with a moments thought. Pirsig is obviously driving at something deeper, even if you don't think he completely gets there.

It's a book about thinking and changing how you do it, after all. You can't expect to get much out of something like that if you can't or won't examine your own cognitive bias as you do.

The common denominator is circumstances creates value.

Way to evaluate a tiny quotation out of context.

Have you never felt frustrated looking for a pen and not finding one when you need one. The frustration increases when you do find a few pens and none work. the price of the pen is determined by the demand and supply but it's value at the moment can't be calculated.

you're right, it's not that profound, which should give us that much more respect for Pirsig for pointing it out because most people completely take for granted that context is the kernel of value.

My kingdom for a horse

I would say, surely the author realises this and has decided to go for 'valueless' for dramatic effect. As a fellow somewhat pedant I totally agree, it's not intellectually consistent and would probably change me into a more disagreeable mode whilst reading it. That said I wonder how many flawed but worthwhile things would not come to be if such consistency was universally applied...

I'm not sure if that is true that he is using 'valueless' for dramatic effect.

One of the major themes of the book is defining "quality" and "value".

Get stranded on the side of the road (something riders are almost pathologically averse to, with good reason) and your opinion will change dramatically.


I understand both you and I (probably, I'm sorry if I am wrong in my assumption and you actually work in mental health) have strong experiences that, in the big scheme of things, are just anecdotic evidence on this subject. With that in mind, I read the book (a few times), and have someone diagnosed with borderline disorder in the family, and don't find many coincidence points between Robert/Phaedrus as described there, and my experiences.

Perhaps a bit with Chris, though, and maybe that is what you meant.

Back to the 'whole selling point' I think he was being overly dramatic, it's a novel after all. I think his point comes across better when he goes through the value traps part of the book, and interpret his point the following way:

Sometimes you are working on some machine (physical, like his motorcycle, or abstract, like software), and you get stuck on a problem due to a seemingly very meaningless part of said machine. I think his 'whole selling point' message is: when this happens, you need to reassess the value you give this part, as, until you get to resolve what it is causing it to get you stuck, its value to you is pretty much the value of the whole machine. Like how a crashing bug means that specific software is useless, in the specific use case that triggers the bug, until that is fixed. If it's some weird edge case, the software may be perfectly usable for most people, but if you are one of the few affected by it, the most likely few lines of code causing the defect render the whole thing useless, they're the selling point of the software to you individually.

Now, obviously, speaking of the actual physical motorcycle, it's not that he can't sell it without resolving the problem that particular screw is causing him. There are probably skilled mechanics with the right training and tools for which the screw would cause little to no problem. But to him: he can't ride it until that is resolved, so the screw is as important as the entire machine until he gets that resolved.

I faced this specific problem just a couple of days ago and remembering the book (which I read years ago) helped me step away from the problem and come back to it with a fresh angle. But the reality was the same: it's not that I would have lost my physical entity (a window, in this case). Surely, I could have called a professional carpenter to help me with it. But to me, without getting someone else involved, that little piece (it was also a screw, a rusty one) was worth the whole window.

I see it this way: a motorcycle has only one inherent value - the ability to take you from point A to B more efficiently.

If it can't fulfill this core function without the screw, it is valueless.

Of course, you can pawn the motorcycle for thousands of dollars, but for that, you would have to have a marketplace and buyers. You can also turn some parts into tools and probably repurpose the tyres into something useful.

But again, to do that, you would have to have the knowhow and the necessary tools and time for repurposing.

If you were in an isolated environment with no other people around and no additional tools, a motorcycle that doesn't function is as good as "valueless".

I want to couch this in the statement that I understand the sentiment: Seemingly unimportant or trivial things _do_ still have value, usually in their small contribution to the whole.

With that said, the motorcycle is clearly not value-less without the screw the same way it is not value-less without a rider.

The instant you dismount the motorcycle it is no longer physically capable of performing its function. Yet it of course still has value.

> With that said, the motorcycle is clearly not value-less without the screw the same way it is not value-less without a rider.

I don't think your comparison makes sense. A motorcycle is not broken without a rider; it is not being used to move from point A to point B, but it is capable of being used to move from point A to point B.

A broken motorcycle is not being used to move from point A to point B, however it is not capable of being used for that purpose. The broken motorcycle is clearly at a lower state than a functional motorcycle.

Perhaps a comparison that works would be (a broken motorcycle + a rider) is as worthless as (a working motorcycle + a broken/ignorant rider).

Two non-functional motorcycles: 1 that will become functional with the addition of a missing screw and 1 that will become functional with the addition of a missing rider.

Neither can be used to move from point A to point B without the addition of their missing component.

If we assume I have the appropriate skills/training to successfully operate the motorcycle that is missing a rider can we not just as easily assume that I have the appropriate knowledge/materials to add the missing screw?

E: The point I'm trying to make is that it is the same scenario. We could argue over which assumption is more practical (how hard is to to find and install the screw vs ride a motorcycle) but that is a separate point.

The screw seems most important when it is the 'weak link'.

But the same is still true of all other components.

I note that a motorcycle's selling price is not part of its inherent value, and Pirsig was the one who brought that up. I fully agree that there's a certain type of value that a motorcycle lacks when it doesn't work; but then that screw isn't worth "exactly the selling price" of the motorcycle, it's worth the type of value that the motorcycle doesn't currently have.

Yes it's like the difference between kinetic energy and potential energy. A rock at rest at the edge of a cliff has no kinetic energy, but a lot of potential energy.

I guess Pirsig was making a point about value and not about potential value, which is leading to a larger point. In the moment, value is all you have. Potential value is a future value that requires time to realize.

I have two separate reactions to your suggestion that it's important to remember potential value, the Zen reaction and the Writer's reaction.

Even though Pirsig wasn't going for Buddhism, it's fairly consistent with Zen thinking to make observations about the momentary values of things. My Zen point is that the purpose of meditation and much of Buddhist practice is to see only value and to eliminate potential. When you learn about how to meditate, you learn how to stop your mind from thinking about the future and concentrate completely on the here and now. Remembering something's potential value is antithetical to this way of thinking. Not because it's untrue, but because it's un-now.

My writer's reaction is that while it will always be important to remember things other than the point the author was making. Is adding your point to the author's words helping us to understand his? If Pirsig reminded us about potential value in this sentence, would it improve this particular narrative? Does it open a path that gets to his larger point either more efficiently or more effectively? It might, that might be part of Pirsig's thesis. Or it might be taking a narrative path that doesn't lead to the same place.

It's important to see not just the value of the quote itself - the truth or completeness of an individual passage - but to also remember the potential value of the words as being the destination of the story -- where they lead and where it ends is as important as where it was at any given moment.

yeah, you really can't just pull a quote out of this book and analyze it in stand-alone. I just re-read the book, and that sentence really had nothing to do with the economics of labor and motorcycle maintenance. OP's quote was more a reminder about a specific chapter of importance for people who had already read the book.

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